My company is in hiring mode. We recently made our first two full-time hires and are now interviewing to fill a marketing position. The biggest thing we learned throughout this process was the importance of requiring our applicants to submit a cover letter with their resume.

By requiring cover letters, our process went much quicker and smoother.

Requiring a cover letter streamlined our hiring process in two ways:

  1.     We were immediately able to rule out applicants that did not submit a cover letter (around 20%).
  2.     Using the quality of cover letters as a standard, we were able to reduce the remaining 200 candidates down to a pool of around 20 people.

By filtering candidates based on the quality of their cover letters, we were able to limit our interviews to only the best candidates. This saved us a significant amount of time and effort in the long run.

How much time did we save by requiring a cover letter?

Approximate Time Added

Reading Cover Letters = 200 Minutes (3.33 hours)

Approximate Time Saved

Reviewing Resumes = 230 Minutes (3.83 Hours)

Interviewing and Scheduling = 1260 Minutes (21 Hours)

Approximate Total Time Saved Per Position: Time Saved (1490 minutes)  - (Time Added) 200 Minutes  = Total Time Saved (1290 minutes or 21.5 hours)

Here’s How The Math Works

For each open position, we receive around 250 resumes. When we receive a resume that doesn't include a cover letter, we don’t review the resume. In this case, around 50 applications (20%) did not have cover letters. Reviewing a resume takes around 1 minute. So, in our situation, we immediately saved around 50 minutes of our time.

Also, we only read an applicant’s resume if they have a good cover letter. Reading a cover letter takes about the same amount of time as reviewing a resume. Only around 20 (10%) of the remaining applicants had quality cover letters. Although we added time upfront by reading the cover letters, we eliminated another 180 resume reviews, saving us another 180 minutes.

In total then, we saved approximately 230 minutes in resume review time.

Prior to making the switch to basing our interview decisions on the quality of an applicant’s cover letter, we averaged around 1 candidate Skype interview for every 4 resumes we received. Surprisingly, the quality of the resumes do not appear to be very different for those that submit cover letter versus those that do not submit cover letters. Had we not required cover letters, we would have interviewed approximately 62 applicants (250 x .25). But since we only interviewed those who submitted a quality cover letter (around 20), we bypassed 42 extra Skype interviews.

Those calls last between 20 and 30 minutes on average. Add in an extra 5 minutes of back and forth for scheduling a call, and the typical first round interview takes up to 30 minutes of time. Time saved on interviews 30 minutes x 42 interviews = 1260 minutes.

Although requiring cover letters added reading time to the process, overall it saved us approximately 1290 minutes or 21.5 hours per position.

Do we miss out on good candidates by not interviewing those that do not submit cover letters?

When we post a position, we clearly state that we require a cover letter and will not consider candidates who do not provide one. If a person does not submit a cover letter, they either did not carefully read the job description or chose not to follow the requirements listed. If they did not read the job description, then they lack the motivation and/or attention to detail that working for us would require. If they chose to ignore the requirement, they communicate to us that they have trouble following instructions. Either way, we do not want to hire someone who is not willing to take the extra time to follow our application instructions.

Does the quality of the cover letter make a difference?

Yes, the quality of the cover letter makes a difference in who we decide to interview. When we look at the cover letter, we want to see that the applicant has:

  1.     Read the job description and can provide reasons why they would be a good fit
  2.     Spent time on our website to learn about the company
  3.     Good written communication skills (Most Important!)

Potential candidates could have theoretically gotten help from friends, relatives, or even professionals to put together an amazing looking resume. However, it’s much less likely that they had the resources or time to get a high level of help for a customized cover letter.

The cover letter gives the hiring manager a much better read on the candidate.


Requiring cover letters gave us a better feel for each of our applicants and also saved us a significant amount of time and energy. Next time your company is looking to hire, consider requiring cover letters. In the long run, your process will go much smoother and quicker.

About the Author(s)

Marc Prosser, Fit Small Business

Marc Prosser is the co-founder and publisher of Fit Small Business, a rapidly growing website that reaches over 600,000 small business readers a month. Started in 2013, Fit Small Business serves as the “Consumer Reports” for small business owners.

Co-founder & Publisher, Fit Small Business